MACEDONIA — Minutes after the Wadsworth football team defeated Nordonia 34-33 Friday, defensive coordinator Rob Karovic heaped compliments on his jubilant players.
He ended the short speech with three words that led to a primal roar: “We’re going home.”
Art Wright Memorial Stadium will be rocking next week in a Division I, Region 1 playoff game.
“Holy crap,” All-Ohio linebacker Nick Winkler said. “I don’t know what to think. I’m so pumped. Oh, my God.”
The Grizzlies (9-1, 6-1) clinched their first home playoff game since 1999 by winning a thrilling Suburban League game that featured nine lead changes and 60 first-half points. It ended after arguably the league’s best player, the Knights’ Alex Alders, dropped a fourth-down pass with 1:08 left that would have been enough to move the chains.
Wrecking ball Wadsworth running back Martice Jackson rushed 38 punishing times for 208 yards. Scott Campbell scored the winning touchdown with 9:21 left, and safety Ryan Looser made the biggest play of his life by stuffing Nordonia quarterback David Murray (21-for-36, 279 yards, 4 TDs) on fourth-and-2 run with 5:27 remaining.
It was a team effort from start to finish as the Grizzlies pitched their fourth second-half shutout of the season.
“It’s so crazy. I’m so happy we came out with the win tonight,” Looser said. “Now, we’re going to play back at home in the playoffs. It’s ridiculous. This game was so crazy.”
Wadsworth entered the fourth quarter trailing 33-27 and appeared to be in trouble when Nordonia approached the red zone. However, its defense stripped Alders (8 receptions, 85 yards) and Greg Young returned the fumble 16 yards to the Wadsworth 36.
It was then time for Jackson to take over.
The 5-foot-8, 209-pound senior carried the rock 14 times in the period, including seven on the go-ahead scoring drive. He then gave way for Campbell to sprint 20 yards up the gut out of the shotgun and Arthur Castro to barely clear the crossbar with the ensuing extra point.
Looser then forced the turnover at the Nordonia 46, giving way for Jackson to grind 4 minutes of clock. The drive ended on downs when an extremely wide-open Jackson couldn’t come up with a slightly underthrown Adam Dennison fourth-down pass in the end zone, but the Knights (8-2, 5-2) didn’t reach the 50 before Alders’ drop on fourth-and-8.
“I’m just so proud of my O-line,” Jackson said of Josh Lee, Chris Byers, Andy Nardo, Tyler Erbse, and Chandler Martinez. “We’ve been harping on them all week that (the Knights) are fast and we have to come out strong. I’m so proud of them because they worked so hard to get here.”
For all of Jackson’s brilliance, the defense once again proved why it is the SL’s best — even after a first half in which it allowed 33 points and 187 yards and four touchdowns to Murray.
Relentless pressure was at the forefront, as Murray was sacked by Winkler (twice), Jake Lamp and Spencer Shelton. Running back Sterling Brabson, who was filling in for injured All-SL starter Jordan Nobles (knee), fared little better with six carries for 20 yards.
Wadsworth also received fumble recoveries from Young and Alex Carrell and held Nordonia to just 100 yards and five first downs.
“We really didn’t do anything different,” Winkler said. “We ran all the same plays, but people just executed better.”
The game, however, still came down to a heady play by Looser.
Nordonia’s lightning-paced offense moved the ball to its own 47 before facing fourth-and-2. It then lined up in a predominately run-based formation and attempted to fool Wadsworth with a quarterback counter.
Looser saw it coming from the start, beat the kickout block and chopped down Murray for a 1-yard loss.
“I was talking to (linebacker) Spencer Shelton and he told me what was going to happen,” Looser said. “When (a certain player) does this, the quarterback keeps it every time. The guard pulled, I filled and made the tackle.”
The first-half was nothing short of defenseless, as the teams used a gaggle of big plays to leave heads spinning.
Wadsworth took a 7-0 lead just 42 seconds in after Nordonia’s Denzel Ward inexplicably failed to field the opening kickoff and the Grizzlies recovered on the 3. Shane Mast scored two plays later.
Nordonia responded with nine unanswered points before Jackson’s 52-yard Wildcat scamper set up a Dennison 1-yard plunge. Ty Hampton then caught a 33-yard TD from Murray to make it 16-14 at the end of the first quarter.
The second was much of the same, as Murray tossed TDs to Hampton (12 yards) and Alders (3) and Roy Rudder kicked his second field goal, while the Grizzlies countered with TDs by Jackson (3-yard run) and Austin White on a wide-open, play-action pass that went for 48 yards.
The pace slowed significantly from that point, but only because Wadsworth wanted to go home.
“I can’t say anything about it,” Looser said. “I’m too happy.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Wadsworth 34, Nordonia 33
WADSWORTH 14 13 0 7 — 34
NORDONIA 16 17 0 0 — 33
W — Shane Mast 1 run (Arthur Castro kick), 11:18.
N — Roy Rudder 32 field goal, 7:46.
N — Denzel Ward 19 pass from David Murray (kick failed), 3:20.
W — Adam Dennison 1 run (Castro kick), 1:40.
N — Ty Hampton 33 pass from Murray (Rudder kick), 0:25.
W — Martice Jackson 3 run (Castro kick), 7:50.
N — Alex Alders 3 pass from Murray (Rudder kick), 5:34.
N — Rudder 25 field goal, 3:04.
W — Austin White 9 pass from Dennison (run failed), 1:19.
N — Hampton 12 pass from Murray (Rudder kick), 0:17.
W — Scott Campbell 20 run (Castro kick), 9:21.